– Unique styling inside and out
– Faster than it feels
– Fair ride, great handling
– Average rear legroom
– Exhaust note could be beefier
– Complicated cabin tech
Every few years, American luxury stalwart Cadillac goes through a substantial change in their philosophy in a bid to better compete with the Europeans. Remember the first STS two decades ago? The first CTS a decade ago maybe? Neither of them made the Europeans break a sweat. But with the latest generation of cars, it seems the tides have turned. While Mercedes-Benz is busy hawking front-wheel-drive hatchbacks to rival VW, and BMW is preparing to compete with Kia in the micro-van stakes, Cadillac is busy churning out new models for enthusiasts at about the same pricepoint. The ATS is one of them.
If you’re trying to decipher the alphabet soup, just know that the Cadillac ATS is a premium compact sedan, slotting in under the now-larger CTS as their entry-level offering. It therefore looks like a little CTS, which is no bad thing. The unique styling is all sharp lines with rounded corners, complemented by 18-inch wheels, dual exhaust tips and tasteful smatterings of chrome.
Inside, there’s a lot happening, with more sharp lines, little chrome details, patterned-aluminium trim pieces, a stitched-leatherette dash and centre-console, soft-touch door panels, and even a padded glove-box cover. The only thing more we would’ve liked was maybe some sort of cover for the gaping cup-holders ahead of the front central armrest.
In terms of space, front passengers of any size will be very comfortable, with moderately-bolstered seats and good headroom. The head space is fairly good in the rear too, but the aft seats offer only just about enough space for average-sized adults, so it won’t be ideal for pro-basketball players back there. Aside from the split-folding rear bench, the boot is pretty long and deep for a car this size, although the opening isn’t big enough for, say, stuffing an Eid cow back there.
On the tech front, nothing’s been left out. You like multimedia touchscreens? It’s here. You like robotic thingies? It’s here too, as the touch-operated control panel below the screen can mechanically flip up to reveal a hidden storage space, complete with a USB port for your music player. Other features include a strong CD/MP3 stereo, a dual-zone auto a/c with rear vents that was unstressed in March weather, smart keyless entry with starter button, remote start, adaptive cruise control, heads-up display, blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, rear camera with sensors, HID headlights with LED running lamps, sunroof, several airbags, power front seats and a lane-departure warning system that lightly vibrates the seat!
The 3.6-litre V6 boasts some impressive specs to go with the rear-wheel-drive platform. With 321 hp on tap at 6800 rpm as well as 371 Nm of torque at 4800 rpm, we managed a solid 6.3 seconds in our 0-100 kph test in cool March weather, and that’s with wheelspin on a dusty road, so it could likely be even faster. The naturally-aspirated engine doesn’t have that initial “kick” that only a turbo motor can provide, rather the power builds up smoothly as the revs go higher. If we had one issue, it’s that the exhaust note doesn’t sound very inspiring until right near the redline, but on the other hand, we also garnered a pretty good fuel consumption figure of 12.7 litres/100 km.
But if the brief was to build a proper sports sedan, they’ve nailed it. Driving the ATS is an absolute pleasure. It harks back to the days when driving was a sensation-filled experience, something that’s distressingly disappearing from the latest crop of German offerings. The quick steering is light at low speeds, firm at higher speeds, as it should be. The brakes are good, with a firm pedal feel. Both the steering and the pedals offer good feedback. And the 6-speed automatic transmission responds well to manual paddle inputs, which was great because it felt a bit muddled in auto mode on occasion, having to adjust to several different driving styles of journalists past.
That auto ‘box is perfectly fine for cruising though. The ATS rides a bit on the firm side, but is compliant on most surfaces. The cabin isn’t super-quiet, but isolation from road and wind noise is decent enough at 120 kph. These are all minor compromises to attain the car’s light-on-its-feet handling. Grip is phenomenal, so the little sedan can be thrown at any corner with verve, without any ill consequences. It simply makes the turn with no drama whatsoever. With 225/40 tyres front and 255/35 rear on 18-inch rims, the ATS behaves absolutely neutral at moderately-high cornering speeds, no under or oversteer, and we were saddened that we didn’t get enough time to find roads where we could push it even further to explore its high limits.
So don’t let the electronic parking brake fool you. While you can’t hoon around with handbrake turns, the ATS is every bit a sports sedan as its contemporary rivals, and better in some major aspects as well. While we described their previous efforts as “almost there,” the ATS has most definitely reached where Cadillac wanted to be all these years.
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